Summary: We are to welcome and love every believer as an equal brother or sister in Christ.
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A PERSONAL LETTER
Do you look forward to checking your mail each day? I do. Unfortunately, all I usually find in my mailbox are bills and junk mail. In this age of email, Facebook, and Twitter, it’s rare that you ever receive a personal letter.
[Show stack of letters, with one addressed to Philemon from Paul]
Let’s take a look at this week’s mail.
[Sort through letters: “Bill, junk mail, bill, junk mail…a letter from Paul the apostle!”]
Actually, this letter isn’t addressed to me; it’s addressed to someone named Philemon.
No, I didn’t find this letter in my mailbox. It’s a letter that’s been preserved for us in the NT.
[Open envelope & read letter to Philemon]
1Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,
To Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker, 2to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier and to the church that meets in your home:
3Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
4I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, 5because I hear about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints. 6I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ. 7Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints.
8Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, 9yet I appeal to you on the basis of love. I then, as Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus—10I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. 11Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.
12I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you. 13I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. 14But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do will be spontaneous and not forced. 15Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back for good—16no longer as a slave but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord.
17So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. 19I, Paul, will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self. 20I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. 21Confident of your obedience, I write to you , knowing that you will do even more than I ask.
22And one thing more: Prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your prayers.
23Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you greetings. 24And so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, my fellow workers.
25The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.
Reading Philemon is like starting to watch a movie after it’s already begun and then leaving before it’s over.
Basic facts about the letter to Philemon:
• Written by: PAUL
When? Around A.D. 60
The letter to Philemon is the shortest book in the NT in the original Greek (355 words).
Timothy is mentioned in verse 1. Why? He is not a coauthor. Paul probably mentions Timothy because he is present as Paul is writing the letter. And perhaps Philemon knows Timothy. They may have met in nearby Ephesus (see Acts 19:22).
• Written from: PRISON
Where? Probably ROME
Paul describes himself as a “prisoner of Christ Jesus” (v. 1). As Paul writes this letter, he is a prisoner of Christ in two ways: (1) he is figuratively a prisoner of Christ because his will is captive to Christ’s will; (2) he is literally a prisoner of Christ because has been imprisoned for preaching the gospel. Paul was always a prisoner of Christ, whether he was actually in prison or not.
Technically, Paul is under house arrest, chained to a Roman guard (see Acts 28:30).
Philemon is one of the four “prison epistles.” The others are Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians.
The letter to Philemon and the letter to the Colossians are closely related. Both were written from the same place, both were addressed to the same church, both were carried to Colossae by Tychicus (Colossians 4:7-9), both mention similar circumstances about Paul’s imprisonment (Colossians 4:3; Philemon 1, 13), and both have an almost identical list of personal greetings. Unfortunately, those who decided the order of the NT books didn’t put Colossians and Philemon together.